THOUGH so closely identified for many years with the
commercial and public life of Glasgow, Sir Samuel Chisholm belongs by birth,
parentage, and upbringing to the county of Midlothian. He came to Glasgow from
the town of Dalkeith in the year 1870, and has carried on since then the
wholesale grocery business of Samuel Chisholm & Company. Shortly after coming to
the city he identified himself with the Glasgow Foundry Boys' Religious Society,
and had his own share in its development and in the bringing of it to its
present position of influence and strength. He was for 18 years Chairman of its
largest branch, which meets in the City Hall, and he has been for 19 years
President of the Society.
In 1888 he entered the Town Council. He had not been long there till he let his voice be heard on the temperance question, and largely owing to the spirit which he echoed a stop was put to the granting of new licenses which had more or less prevailed. He enlisted the efforts of the seven cities of Scotland which were exempted from the early closing of public houses in a united representation to the Secretary for Scotland on the subject. His effort was renewed again and again. Lord Lothian, Sir George Trevelyan, and Lord Balfour were each interviewed, and, though successive Governments threw cold water on the proposal, the seed he then sowed at last yielded its fruit in the Early Closing Public Houses Act of 1904.
In 1891 he was chosen Convener of the City Improvement Trust, and it was under his convenership that the Trust emerged from the financial chaos in which it had been involved, and that the central portion of the city round the Cross was transformed from an insanitary and disreputable area, the home of vice, debauchery, and disease, to the spacious, airy, and attractive quarter it has now become. In 1892 he was elected a Magistrate of the Burgh, and in 1896, when his term of office had expired, he was unanimously chosen to be Senior Magistrate for the following year.
In 1899 he was elected Lord Provost of the City. His three years' tenure of office coincided with the three most crowded and memorable years in the city's history. He had scarcely taken his seat in the chair when he was called upon to inaugurate a fund for the relief of the wives and families of the men at the front in the South African War, and thereafter to superintend its distribution through the long protracted years. Before many weeks had elapsed he had to ask the citizens to subscribe an Indian Famine Relief Fund, and yet again another for the relief of the sufferers by the Ottawa fire. During his last year of office he had once more to appeal to the liberality of the citizens for a fund to relieve the sufferers by the Ibrox Football Disaster. The entire amount subscribed for "Lord Provost's Funds" in response to his appeals was over £160,000.
The city's acknowledgment of the patriotism of the Volunteers for the front, the numerous meetings, general and sectional, in connection therewith, to give them a send off, and to give those returning a welcome home, made no slight demand upon the Lord Provost's time. The visits of the colonial premiers, and of the colonial troops, stirred the city and engaged its chief. The death of the Queen, the death of the Empress Frederick, the assassination of President M'Kinlay. all occurred during his term of office, and called for suitable recognition by him in the name of the city. The proclamation of King Edward in George Square, Glasgow, as well as his coronation in Westminster, were each taken part in by Sir Samuel in his capacity as civic chief.
Two visits from members of the royal family occurred while he was Lord Provost. Princess Christian visited the city to open the Ruchill Hospital, and was entertained to a banquet in the City Chambers, and in 1901, when Glasgow's great exhibition was opened, the ceremony was performed at the King's command by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Fife and her noble husband. As Chairman of the Executive of the Exhibition the Lord Provost had numerous and most responsible duties to discharge, and no one had more reason than he to be gratified at its marvellous success. While the exhibition lasted (May-November, 1901), numberless functions, all requiring and receiving the Lord Provost's presence and aid, were held in the city. The British Association, after an absence of 25 years, held its Congress in Glasgow, as did the Engineers, the Society of Chemical Industry, the Naval Architects, the Peace Society, the International Law Association, and a host of others. The ancient University of Glasgow celebrated in a remarkable series of gatherings its 450th anniversary, and the Corporation of the City gave a great banquet in honour of the occasion, the Lord Provost occupying the chair and proposing the toast of the evening. The Lord Mayor of London paid Glasgow a State visit, and was taken by the Lord Provost and other civic representatives to Loch Katrine and the Trossachs.
During Sir Samuel's tenure of office the honorary burgess roll had five additions made to its number in the persons of the Duke and Duchess of Fife, Lord Balfour, Mr. Andrew Carnegie, and Mr. R. W. Hanbury, M.P.
Meanwhile important municipal work was being carried on, calling for the Lord Provost's anxious care. There was not only the routine business, which is exacting enough in a city like Glasgow, but there were numerous special movements. The additional tunnel from Loch Katrine to Craigmaddie, doubling the possibilities of the city's supply of water, was completed and opened; a commencement was made with a new gas-work, the second largest in the kingdom; new electricity works were erected and opened on the north and south sides of the city; the tramway service was converted from horse to electric haulage, and, after long fighting with successive Postmasters-General, in which Sir Samuel had taken a prominent part, a new municipal telephone service was established.
During the same period the Health Department of the city was subjected to a severe ordeal by a serious visitation of smallpox, and by an outbreak of bubonic plague. By drastic measures both scourges were effectively dealt with, and stamped out.
Outside the direct duties of the chair, Sir Samuel interested himself in all public matters that were not mixed up with party politics. At the personal request of the Princess Christian he undertook to make an appeal to the children of Glasgow to raise funds for homes at Bisley for disabled soldiers, to be known as "The Children's Homes." In the course of this effort he visited a very large number of the public schools and private academies of the city, and enlisted the interest of the young people to such an extent that he was able to send to the Princess no less a sum than £1,500.
The movement for the Union of the Free and the United Presbyterian Churches engaged not a little of his time and effort. In connection with it he visited many of the towns and cities of Scotland.
He was chosen chairman of the commission which the Corporation of Glasgow appointed to enquire into the question of the housing of the poor, and though on the expiry of his Lord Provostship he resigned that position, he was unanimously requested, and he agreed, to continue.
Just a few days before his period of office expired he wrote a long and detailed letter to the Times in answer to charges made in that newspaper against the finances of Glasgow's municipal enterprises. That letter obtained extraordinary publicity, and was regarded as a convincing reply to the charges which the Times contained.
The University of Glasgow conferred on Sir Samuel the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws during his tenure of the Lord Provostship, and His Majesty conferred on him the honour of a Baronetcy of the United Kingdom at its close.
He has been twice married. His first wife, daughter of the Rev. John Thompson, Holywell, Cumberland, died in 1900, and in 1903 he married Mrs. Henderson, widow of the founder of the Anchor Line of steamers.
Although his political proclivities were effectually suppressed during his official career, his views were never a matter of doubt. He was, as he still is, a Radical. As such, he unsuccessfully contested the Camlachie division of the city in 1895. He was for many years Chairman of the College Division Liberal Association. He was chairman of committee for Sir Charles Cameron, Bart., when that gentleman contested the division in absentia, being laid aside at the time by illness, and he carried his candidate to the top of the poll with a great majority. He was chairman of the Glasgow Liberal Council, and presided at a great meeting in St. Andrew's Halls, when Lord Rosebery, then Prime Minister, delivered a political address.
Since he demitted office, he has not ceased to take an interest in everything pertaining to the welfare of the City. He has been appointed by the present Government member of the Royal Commission on the Registration of Titles in Scotland, and quite recently, along with Lady Chisholm, he has completed a tour round the world, visiting Canada, Japan, China, the Malay Peninsula, Ceylon, Burmah, and India.
Sir Samuel, as Lord Provost, was Lord Lieutenant of the County of the City of Glasgow, and is now a Deputy Lieutenant as well as a Justice of the Peace, both for the County of Lanark.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)